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While strolling through Good Hope Farm on a sunny afternoon, one gets the curious feeling that the farm is a living, breathing organism all on its own. A resident farmer pulls up to tend to her plot, a truck pulls in to fix a water line, a bee clumsily bumbles from one plant to another. Everything seems to operate so seamlessly that it is easy to forget the staggering effort that has been devoted to the project.
Good Hope Farm is the result of an impressive collaboration between the Town of Cary and four nonprofit organizations: Piedmont Conservation Council, The Conservation Fund, NC Community Development Initiative, and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. The goal of the farm is to honor Cary’s agricultural heritage while also increasing the community’s access to farmland and connecting residents to local food.
In 2008 the Town of Cary purchased the farm, which has been in production for over 100 years, in order to preserve a portion of the community’s agricultural legacy. The farm, currently leased by Piedmont Conservation Council, is providing land access to a new generation of farmers in a rapidly urbanizing area. The entire property is 29 acres, and includes plots for lease, a community garden, and park space.
The growing interest in sustainable food sources is certainly not a new trend. The farm to table movement has helped proliferate food justice to the mainstream, and there are increasing numbers of people interested in creating local food economies. However, operationalizing a local agricultural community is more complicated than simply garnering interest. Good Hope Farm is a marriage between a conservation project, community passion, and economic development. Sarah Justice, the Environmental Outreach Program Coordinator for the Town of Cary calls the farm a serendipitous opportunity. “Groups have been talking for almost a decade about how to bring together people earning money and protecting the earth,” she said.
Good Hope Farm, although in its early stages, is accomplishing much of what its progenitors set out to do. The lots are leased out to local farmers who are able to sell their goods at local markets, stimulating the local economy and making fresh foods more accessible to people living in the Triangle. The farm is also a place where community members of all kind can get closer to the earth and each other. Middle school students habitually come out to do projects, the Town of Cary hosts composting workshops, and corporate groups come out to do team-building exercises. The produce tables on site are built by local Eagle Scouts, and the nascent orchard is made up of trees planted by local volunteers.
There are a few major components to the success Good Hope Farm has achieved so far, support from Triangle Community Foundation and from the Town of Cary. The Foundation provided $25,000 in funding to the Farm, which leveraged a co-application with the Town of Cary to the Funder’s Network for Smart Growth & Liveable Communities, leading to the Farm being the first in NC to receive a Partners for Places Grant, a substantial equity-focused grant to support access to farmland for minority and women farmers. The grant also supports access to food for low-income residents through SNAP EBT, and a double bucks program. The Town of Cary’s support has been instrumental in getting a project like Good Hope Farm off the ground.
Erin Crouse with the Conservation Fund claims, “If this weren’t a town project, the complicated permitting process would be insurmountable. But because we have town support, there is an entire office of people who have generously helped us troubleshoot.”
Good Hope Farm is an impressive collaboration, one that project leaders Justice and Crouse speak about with pride. It is not often that so many moving parts are able to come together to create a resource as valuable as the farm.
“There are other partnerships where groups collaborate in a variety of ways to do similar things but there are no other programs that we could find in the United States where all these pieces come together: the historic preservation, the economic development, the nonprofit sector, and the government sector,” said Justice.
Indeed, the Farm is a special place to visit, work, and connect with community. There are many opportunities to get involved: volunteer work days take place every third Saturday of every month, there are plots available to lease, and of course donations are always welcome. There is something fundamental to community about fresh food, and Good Hope Farm is bringing people together while also stimulating the local economy and investing in the future. The land truly feels like a loving place. The farmers go about their business, and the freshly planted trees and vegetables give the impression that marvelous things are in store.
-Written by Rosemary Stump